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“What I’ve Learned In the Year Since My ADHD Diagnosis”

“The first time I took Adderall, I realized how much extra and dangerous noise had been occupying my head. It was like having a song stuck in your head all your life and then someone pushes pause and you can relax for the first time in silence.”

One year ago this week, I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).

The internalized stigma I’ve had to unpack since then merits its own blog post about ADHD in women — and how people really, really need to stop making Adderall jokes. What I’m struck by right this instant is how much my life has changed since that diagnosis.

I was a messy kid, but I did well in school. My last year in high school, I was ashamed and frustrated that I wasn’t able to keep up with my group of over-achieving friends, and so I found ways to overcompensate without consciously knowing it.

By the time I got to college, this overcompensation had transformed into full-blown anxiety. I was so obsessed with not looking like the chaos I was feeling inside my head that I was allowing the shame and worry to to eat me alive.

I finally went to therapy a few years into my career because my brain wasn’t feeling like a safe place anymore. The same obsessive thoughts and anxieties consumed me. I would stay up all night obsessively calculating the average price of a house in my area. And in the neighboring state. And all the way in Sweden. Or how much money we’d make if I switched jobs. But maybe I should go back to school and get another degree that can make more money. But I couldn’t afford that if I wanted to because I’m a failure. And that’s why I’ll never be able to afford a house.

These looping thoughts took a toll. I started coming home from work with debilitating migraines. It became a sad routine that I’d go to bed straight from work with an ice pack on my head and my husband would quietly bring me toast for dinner in my dark den.

[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women and Girls]

I just wanted it to stop.

This isn’t what most people think about when they think about ADHD, but this is actually very common for people — especially women.

Women face so much societal pressure to be sparkly and perfect that many of us with ADHD end up finding unhealthy methods to manage our attention deficit. For me, it was obsession and anxiety.

With help in therapy, I found out that the unhealthy ways I learned to overcompensate made me anxious and exhausted. After a bad episode, I’d end up depressed and not able to get off the couch all day because my nerves and energy would be completely depleted.

And finally a diagnosis. If you haven’t heard the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” song yet, then stop and do that now because that’s exactly how it felt. And with the diagnosis came a prescription.

[Free Handout: Get a Grip on Tough Emotions]

I was terrified to try Adderall for the first time, partially because I don’t do well with medication, and also because of all the stigma. But the first time I took it, I realized how much extra and dangerous noise had been occupying my head. It was like having a song stuck in your head all your life and then someone pushes pause and you can relax for the first time in silence.

It didn’t make my work better. It didn’t give me supernatural focus. It just quieted my brain so that I could pay attention to what was in front of me.

Now looking back a year later, I can see the incredible amount of self-growth that I’ve undergone. Before my diagnosis, most of my achievements came out of obsessive anxiety about the future. In the past year, I’ve actually been able to learn what I want in life without apocalyptic thoughts looping forever in my head.

I’ve gotten to learn about myself and my strengths, but I’ve also learned that my ADHD is not just a bad thing. My ADHD gives me a drive and interest in work and my career. It gives me energy to jump into crisis situations and to confidently exercise my problem-solving abilities.

ADHD looks different for everyone. But however if affects us, we’re not alone and there are incredible communities here for us.

There are still a lot of things I’d like to better manage in my life, but for now I’m celebrating a year of knowing myself better and appreciating my ADHD head.

This blog was originally published on Kind North.

[Free Handout: How to Prepare for Your ADHD Evaluation]